Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Walk Through the Beautitudes

We put ourselves in position to receive the grace and mercy of God.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I recognize my spiritual need, my spiritual poverty, and turn my eyes upward to God, his Kingdom, where I see the riches of heaven opened up to me.  Certainly I was made for more than this world.   Once I see the world for what it really is, just a world of empty promises, I begin the journey to another kingdom.  Before I can enter his kingdom I must find discontent with my kingdom.  I begin to dream of a better way of life. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
This dream is shattered as I consider the great chasm between me and God.  I mourn my rebellion, I become aware of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.  In the Genesis story I see what God had initially intended - a paradise where God and man enjoy unbroken fellowship, a place where all our needs are met, a place where God's kingdom is on earth.  We forfeited this paradise thinking we could figure out things for ourselves.  How foolish we are.  How foolish I am.  Yet I see in Scripture that God has not given up on us.  He will make things right.  He will restore the broken relationship and in the hope of this grand reunion I find comfort.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Repenting of rebellion, I humble myself - I become meek.  I realize that my pride and self reliance has gotten me nowhere.  Thinking the world would be mine if only I could be unshackled from the chains of God, I have found myself with nothing.   So, I humble myself.  I empty myself.  I  submit to God whom now I have come to know not as a tyrant but as a loving master.  In doing so I become heir of everything  I could ever desire.

Our desires change and we begin to imitate God rather than rebelling against him.  We desire the same for others.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Having found empty the promises of this world I become hungry and thirsty for something else.  Selfishness, pride, pleasure, and riches had not really filled me - they simply bloated me.  I thought these things satisfied me, but now that I have put them aside I feel a deep hunger and instead turn to the things of God - righteousness.  And now I actually find true satisfaction!  I am filled!  I begin to realize that my previous diet made me spiritually grumpy.  The diet of this world always left me wanting.  My soul knew that there was more and now that my diet has changed from selfishness to righteousness I finally feel satisfaction.  The kingdom of heaven is growing within me!

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
As the kingdom grows within me, I notice changes in my life and changes in the way I am treated by others.   As I have experienced grace and mercy in my life, as I have been welcomed back from my rebellion, this new knowledge of God is transforming me.  This new feeling of being filled has freed my from thoughts of revenge and retaliation.  I am beginning to see the qualities of God blossom even within me!  As I realize I am forgiven, I become forgiving.  As I experience God's mercy, I become merciful and, as I experience that, the mercy of God becomes even more real in my own life.  The feelings of spiritual poverty are shedding from my soul like the skin of a snake.  My despair has been transformed into joy!  I am becoming the person I was intended to be.  The contamination of this world is leaving my soul.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
I am becoming pure!  How wonderful this is!  I feel like  a new person.  The discouragement and dissatisfaction I previously felt was the result of the poisonous and toxic environment I lived in.  This vision of God I had at the beginning of this process is becoming so much clearer.  His kingdom is so much closer; the Paradise I forfeited is being reclaimed; it's almost like the kingdom of heaven is within me.  I had been living in a cloud.  The fog of this world had nearly blinded me.  No wonder I felt so poor - my vision was so clouded that I tripped over every obstacle, I bumped into every wall.  I had no clear vision for my life, I had no real hope for a future.  It's almost like I can see God!  We are friends again and I must let others know that God wants to be their friend as well!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
I see so many people who were like me - alienated from God.  They are still living in the clouded world I once inhabited.  I see them bloated on the junk food of the world.  There are so many living in the unrest that comes from a life without God.  They need to be His friend and I am determined to bring the peace I have found with God into their lives.  How can I not share with others this wonderful revelation I have come upon?  Like me, many people see God as a tyrant, a dictator, a despot.  How wrong they are.  How wrong I was.  He is no bully, he's our Father.  I am experiencing the peace of being a child of God and begin the task of bringing this peace to others.

Our invitation is refused by some and we suffer because of it, but our convictions are so strong and our hope is so real we can even rejoice in this.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Not everyone sees things the way I do.  I thought everyone would receive my invitation with enthusiasm, but instead they mock me.  They claim they are already filled, they claim their vision is just fine, they are happy with life without a father.  After all, orphans can do what they want.  Orphans have no bedtimes, no chores, are never disciplined.  I am sad but my new-found joy cannot be quelled.  In fact, seeing their pitiful life reminds me even more of the great reward I have found.  I know that their choices have no future while my choices will lead to an even greater experience of God.  This excites me!  I observe that others who have found God have had this same experience as well and I find peace in that.  They can mock me, they can accuse me, they can threaten me but I will never go back.  No one will take his joy and hope from me.  I was fooled once, I will not be fooled again.

I am blessed!

Friday, April 11, 2014

It's always brighter after the prayer

I've been meeting with a small group of church members early in the morning this week to pray.  We've been meeting in the church's atrium, a fellowship hall of sorts, and gather by a large window that overlooks the church grounds.  When we arrive, the morning is just starting to break - stars are still visible and just a touch of sunlight is noticeable.  It really is quite peaceful.  We visit for a few minutes and then spend about 15 minutes in prayer.  As I was taught to do as a child, I keep my eyes closed throughout the prayer and only open them at the final "amen."   It's quite amazing what can happen in those few minutes as the day breaks and the sun rises.  I noticed when the prayer is over and I open my eyes the world is a little brighter.  I commented to the group, "It's always brighter after the prayer."  Initially I was referring only to the fact that during our time of prayer the sun has risen, but as I spoke those words I realized that the same is true metaphorically.  Spending some time with God sheds light on our lives.  Prayer has a way of clarifying things.  Prayer has a way of pushing out the darkness and bringing the light of God's presence and truth.  It is always brighter after the prayer, isn’t it? 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Rejection at the vending machine

... some of the time
Vending machines have come a long way since I was a kid.  It used to be you slid in a couple of coins and pulled a lever and down would drop your snack or drink.  Now there are lights, levers, cranes, codes, and chutes that make the purchase a production of its own.  It's almost worth the price of the product to see the delivery!  But one of the greatest advances in vending machine technology was the ability of the machine to accept bills rather than just coins.  Especially as prices increased, it came as a relief not having to search the car seats for that extra quarter - now you just slide in a dollar bill or two and you're ready to snack.  That is unless your dollar bill is rejected!

What a terrible feeling.  You watch your dollar get sucked into the machine and then it spits it back at you.  You check the little picture to make sure George's head is facing the right way and try again.  If you're rejected again you do that little ritual that you saw some other guy do - you take the bill and rub it on a corner trying to take out any possible crease in the bill.  You unfold any turned-up corners and hope you're bill is good enough.  If you still find your bill rejected you're now ready to take the machine on - that's why they put those machines behind metal bars!!  "What's the deal," you think.  A dollar is a dollar, after all, whether it's fresh out of the mint or if it's been folded, wadded, washed and taped.  Why should this machine accept a good looking bill but reject an old, worn out one?  A clean, fresh bill is of no more value than a worn-out one.

As much as we don’t want to admit it, we are so much like those dastardly vending machines.  We tend to be more accepting of people who have it all together and tend to be less-than-accepting of people who have been folded, wadded, washed, and taped.  People who have been through the ringer often find themselves spit out by many of us who prefer to accept only the pristine.

The New Testament author James wrote to Christians and shuddered at the fact that followers of Christ could exhibit such preferential behavior.  He imagines a scene were two people come into church, one wearing fine clothes and one wearing not-so-fine.  The one in mint condition is escorted to the front of the assembly while the other is sent off to the cheap seats. He sums up his argument by saying, "My dear brothers and sisters, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, never think some people are more important than others."

This type of behavior is so contrary to Christians because it is so contrary to Christ.  Dollar bills of all kinds who had been repeatedly spit out by others found themselves welcome and accepted by Christ.  Jesus was able to recognize the inherent value of every human being as he looked beyond the scars and wear so visible and so despised by others.  A human being is a human being, after all, whether they're fresh out of the mint or if they've been folded, wadded, washed, and taped.  Jesus received us all!

He modeled it, he taught it, let's do it!